Joke stood in the kitchen area of our little cottage in the mud (so much rain these days). her water broke. it was making a potent pool on the floor, just like in the movies. is this the water she has been drifting in all these nine months? yes. this is the water she is coming from, like we all did. each and everyone of us, as well as all of life, collectively. from water we came. water is so fundamental to who and what we are, the creation story of Genesis 1 does not even include it in creation. it simply assumes it was there before everything else. our very substance is water. everything else can go – all the edifices of civilization can go, even food can go for a while. but not water. the lack of water puts any city, any nation, any continent in a tail spin – just ask Cape Town. ask this little being that wants to leave Joke. she wants to leave, because the water has started to leave.
flow, flow, flow. like a boat on heavy seas, Joke’s contractions started. each wave brings a surge of pain, of intensity, of a deep moan originating from the depths of an inner ocean. I ride the waves with her. throughout the night they come. at first they are relatively mild, and yet so definitive. the moment has arrived! nine months of waiting, guessing, dreaming, feeling abstract bones, perusing scans and talking about this and that have now hit the wall – a huge, dark existential wall of which there is no choice but to go through. the culmination of the ultimate creative expression: the creation of life, the creat-ing life, the emergence from the mud pool onto dry land. on the wall there is a sign – it says, “the wall of life and death” (so I imagine it).
my own being as the culpable male has also been preparing itself for this. I feel ready – no, I am so, so ready, in body and mind and heart. we know how wrong things can go (up to the point of death). even though I had a deep trust in both mother and child.
Joke has been looking after her health in a fundamental way (not just physically), especially over the last years. this child has been growing in a five star little biological hotel, that I know. both of us looked after the quality of what we delivered the night she was conceived. it matters. sperm cells and eggs are not produced in a laboratory. they reflect one’s own state of being (as well as one’s being itself, of course). being in bad health directly affects the quality of sperm and egg – physically and psychologically. to copulate and conceive is only the utmost end of a long creative build-up – whether this is consciously done or not. we worked on it. and a great deal of my trust that going through this wall would be smooth enough, was built on that.
by early morning the waves entered a new and more urgent phase. it was like they were saying, ok, you have been warming up now, let’s go to the next level. hours drifted by. I was there, with every wave – holding, watching, groaning with her – this rock of a woman, Joke Debaere, with which I could flow my being since the the first day we met – encouraging her, being amazed by her, being moved, being overwhelmed by the power of the feminine (being a woman is not for.. mm, well, sissies!).
the mid wife joined, ever supporting, giving helpful information and enriching stories to tell. I thought of one particularly bad tooth abscess I had in 2010, just after Joke and I met for the first time – being in pain for two weeks, of which some days were consumed by minute-by-minute pain management. it was from hell. I felt death pulling at my coat tails – I know how pain can drain all your resources. and yet, what I witnessed here went profoundly further than that. a painful tooth is like a dark, suffocating cloud. bearing a child is like a violent, earth-shattering volcano.
the final stretch is what I can hardly put into words. it is also too sacred for words. it is a clarion call of true authenticity, the crumbling of the wall, it is Joke’s cries and screams that shook the trees and the hills around us.. yet in these extreme erruptions of intensity, I witnessed Joke’s whole creative and spiritual character at work. how she was now actively steering this ship through the massive waves, how she could see the end nearing, and welcoming it, calling it on. how she and the unborn were in full collaboration with each other. there is only one way through! only one way. even on pain of death.
when I think of the stories we make up about places of ultimate joy and ultimate pain – stories of a heaven and a hell, existing somewhere nowhere – they sound so trite, so removed from real joy and pain – so thought out and mentally conceived. all heaven and all hell come together in the giving of birth. the moment that a new human being slips through into the atmosphere of mother earth, as so many of you are witness of – is nothing like anything else.
and there she was. fluids everywhere. the red red water of life too: blood. Joke had some tearing, so more than the usual blood came out. but at first it was not of concern. we did not know the full cause as yet.
there she was. and here I sit as an artist who mostly do not struggle to find words to dig into an experience, to give it new light, to unpack it. but with this, I just can’t. I see that moment of her release before me, I feel the surge of psalms and symphonies that screamed through me as we turned to being three and not two anymore, and still it is way too much to try and capture it in words. perhaps later a poem will be born – a poem about how I cannot capture it in words!
I have been brought up on the primacy of the Word. I have been taught to find life’s answers in a holy book. I cannot but help, now, to think how limited that was, even deceiving. how can a book ever, ever, ever, ever capture what life is.
the bleeding would not stop. a decision needed to be made. five hours after the birth, Joke had to be carried by three men for 100 metres to where the nearest car was parked. she was heavy, she was supremely exhausted. she lost much blood. there was no playing around. much happened as we first went to the local small town hospital and from there were transported to a new, state of the art hospital in Mdantsane, near East London. this was done by ambulance, a small minibus, over 100km. the little baby girl was only 8 hours old, and was travelling already!
I held her in my arms.. since being born, she has shown the same character we could feel from her arms and legs moving in Joke’s tummy – full of energy, resilient, calm. she drank mother’s milk for two hours shortly after being born, so she was quite prepared for the journey. she slept fast in my arms for the whole 100km, also when we took a short cut on a very bumpy dirt road that was half washed away by the ongoing rains. at the hospital we had to wait. Joke only went in for the operation seven hours later. the bleeding stopped by propping it up and clotting naturally. she was not in crisis, but she needed to be checked and stitched up.
as she was taken up to be operated on, I still had the baby with me. I went to a waiting room (as instructed by hospital staff) where it was slightly cold and empty. alone I sat there for five hours. all this while, the baby slept. OK, not all the while. she would cry a bit here and there, but since her birth, I quickly found ways to calm her almost immediately. this time so much went through my being. feelings were born, more than I was even conscious of.
I was called to come and see Joke. how beautiful and radiant she looked! she came through. the operation was simple and the experience reassured her. she kept saying how wonderful the staff were, the feeling of receiving good and competent care in a building that was modern, yet with an open and rounded african flair to it. but just as I thought we will now be reunited, I was ordered away by the staff. I was forced to be separated from the baby girl.
oh, feelings, feelings, feelings!! all rebelliousness broke loose in me, a rebellion against all systems at that moment: how DARE you take me, as the father, away from this mother and this child? of course the baby needs to be with its mother, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FATHER?? I don’t care if half of humanity’s fathers take distance from the birthing process, even look down on it, whether they just procreate in a functional sort of way or make babies as per chance. to give life to this baby took – along with Joke – years and years of consideration and eventually a decision, and then, actual planning as to when to conceive. This is not a solo act, and as much as there is a fundamental inequality between men and women when it comes to the physical delivery of a child, I was fully present and part of this whole event. Rearing this child would likewise be a full-on team effort, so do not now, in these critical early moments of her life, push me away! HOW DARE YOU. Well, the words I actually used towards the sister who sanctimoniously lectured me on hospital policy were: YOUR HOSPITAL POLICY SUCKS!
I tried to call the midwife to see if she can step into the situation but could not reach her. then something in me gave in. this won’t be for long. I can visit during visiting hours and after a day and a half, she should be discharged. I have learnt lessons over the years about fighting systems (and some people who act like marionettes inside of them) and have mostly decided to do certain things as an independent, rather than to deplete myself in fighting what is too big for me. I cried on Joke’s shoulder (the nurse had no clue why) and then left the building to go catch some sleep on a bench outside.
that night our dear landlady, Hester, came through to take me home, so I can fetch our van. the next day I would drive back to Mdantsane to fetch the precious cargo of mother and child.
re-entering the space where Mira was born was not a good experience. I felt a loneliness that was new – the loneliness of being a father without his family, I guess. gone was much of the old feeling of – ok, I am by myself now, let me enjoy some things.. now, all gravity lied 100km away.
I walked into the bathroom. on the window sill is a picture of my mom where she sits in a flower field in the south of France. she, who died two years ago, I felt the genetic line and suddenly my mother’s death sank to a deeper level. I shook with cries, missing her now. I started my sound system and played a recent recording I made – the one called “slow waltz.” this is a little piece Joke and I dedicated to the new baby in January. now this baby was for real! now I already held her in my arms, now her little face was already imprinted in the nerve strings of my heart – the shuddering sense of parental love.
the music played. then the floods of feeling flowed and it became my turn to waken the hills and trees around with my own convulsions and screams – screams of a crazy joy and being washed over by a staggering beauty – the beauty of me and Joke coming together, creating this.. this little thing!! a played another track, whixh combined a sort of a child’s song with some wild african drums and a soaring choir-voiced flight over all the waters of the world. to this I danced myself empty and fell asleep.
they say having children changes your life forever. I don’t agree. life is not changed. it is just given its ultimate depth. perhaps some people need to be reminded of life when they have a child. perhaps they have drifted off their sense of authentic being through all the stresses of staying alive in this world. perhaps they have lost their own child-likeness by driving themselves up ladders of success, or by losing themselves in systems of faith. perhaps the food they eat renders them sugar-coated and deep-fried, their taste for the organic flow of life much weakened. no, life did not change, but oh man, did it become full! in fact, too full for the first two days after arriving back home – baby Mira having completed her second 100kms. yes, Joke could hardly move, sit, lift the baby with her arms. she needed food – super foods – and physical support. family were often calling in, things needed cleaning, then the baby needed comforting, then this, then that and then that again. I had meals lying around half made, as things happened in such a stream that I forgot to eat sometimes.
but the flow of life brought restoration, brought things back to a rather peaceful rhythm, sooner than expected.
how many times can I repeat this? life is a flow! a flow! whenever the flow is interrupted, when something is building up somewhere, things start to go wrong. how much do I wish to raise this child with that awareness! – mainly by being a flowing being myself, not much by instruction. a being that constantly reconnects with its watery origins and the ecosystems of its feelings. a being wherein body and soul stay reconciled. oh man, how did we ever allow the soul to drift off so far, creating the impression that it can exist by itself?? Mira still has this oneness to the full. her soul being nowhere but fully bonded with her body. even silly to talk about these two as if they are two things – body and soul – they are but two sides to the same coin – the currency we call life – two sides that can be traced back and inwards and outwards to all that is..
but wait, let me crack it down to these nine things that I wish for her:-
• I wish that the flow of her body stays healthy, that she eats and drinks that which restores and maintain flow, as all serious diseases can be traced back to some sort of blockage of flow..
• the second is that her flow of expression will grow in its creativity and in its authenticity.
• the third is that she would feel her spirit, her living breath, is in flow with the bigger expanse of life and universe out there as well as the infinitesimally smaller flows from within.
• the fourth is that her mind would keep flowing, producing insight and understanding, and not get stuck on truths that cannot move, truths that pretend to be eternal.
• the fifth is there would be a sustained flow of stimulation from the outside world – of people, places, of knowledge, of experiences.
• the sixth is that her hands and limbs will flow with the making of things, will grow in skill of execution and that this would not be dominated by over-refined technologies.
• the seventh is that she will flow in the way she relates to others, not getting stuck in idealization or obsession, but feeling and knowing herself in each relationship in order to be able to give herself with awareness.
• the eighth is that she will have a flow of material sustenance to survive and thrive on – that she would not have debilitating lack, nor be a hoarder of wealth, damming up riches that smother her soul.
• the last is that she will live life as a flowing and participating, communicating whole, each day to live to the full, able to dive into the new, and just as able to die when it is time to die. I wish her the potency of the origins of life, the steady, adventurous and fulfilling journey of a maturing river and finally the complete rest, as her life too, eventually, spills itself out onto the floor.
every day that passes she is one day older. we are now at day ten. incredible how much life there already is.. however, I keep reminding myself that she is not ten days old, but nine months plus eight days. her character has been formed in all its essence already the day she was conceived. we may organize birthday parties, but we tend to miss the real celebration: the coming together of a tiny sperm and a tiny egg, the ultimate marriage of the male and female, the original dance of procreation. forget the stars and moons and the stories of fishes and water carriers and bulls. we are mainly made by those generations of actual and full human beings who came before us. we carry their marks, their traits, we carry part of the stories of our mother’s and father’s (and grandparents’) lives. for instance, my mother practiced the piano profusely and my fingers took something on of that, so I was born with a natural knack for the keys. and so will Mira show tendencies and talents that are actually influenced by the very things Joke and I kept ourselves busy with up to now. what an earth-shattering responsibility it is to make children! and yet it is also so natural and deceptively simple, that we can easily fool ourselves thinking that other powers and signs – even the poor baby itself – is mostly responsible for the main themes and traits of their characters.
every day she changes a little. and so her life will bring on new phases until the day she leaves us, until our parenting is over. if we do not keep flowing ourselves, if we harbor little idealizations within ourselves (“she will always remain my little baby daughter”) we’ll get stuck when her movement takes her forward, or we can even cause her to get stuck too – with all the misery and possible long term damage it often leads to. no, let’s keep flowing! every evening is a final goodbye to that particular day. and every morning something new is born.
and so, dear readers, do I reach the end of this story. much more I could have told you, perhaps much less too. many of you will get to meet Mira as we start our travels again by the end of July. we look forward sharing her with you. the thank you’s I’d like to extend are so numerous – all the conversations we had over the years with some of you regarding the viability of raising children with in the “HA!” setup, all the support pledged, all the gifts we received recently, all the encouragement we received from you to take this dive and especially family and close friends, for your acceptance and support.. thank you, thank you! no child can be raised without a village. and our village are you, mostly. a strange 21st century kind of village, one with its own unique set of drawbacks and opportunities, nevertheless village enough to make Mira possible – perhaps a sibling too, in two years’ time – that is the plan! J
two more thank you’s: to Joke’s twin sister who came all the way from Belgium, leaving her own family and work behind to come and assist us for 10 days – a loving thanks to you, Marieke! it means to world to us. and then to the South African state: the ambulance, operation, up-to-date-care and two nights’ stay in a private hosital room of her own cost us a full round zero rands, as Joke is married to me as a South African. not to mention the prenatal care and tests over the last months by the local clinic. it all did not cost us a cent. private enterprise in this case would have left us impoverished..
Indeed, Mira was born in Africa. Eastern Cape. Stutterheim. Eagle’s Ridge Country House. Our cottage here. This is our base. This is her roots. From here, her tree will grow over many places. She has roots in Belgium too, of course, and we will nurture that. But both Joke and I, after all we’ve been through in this continent, have made this choice, for better and for worse, to base ourselves here. It is a happy coincidence that our little daughter’s beginnings go along with renewal and hope in South Africa, and Africa as a whole. We live in a water rich area and have peace and security. Our doors stay open at night! We are privileged. Not that there are no challenges. But we are determined to make the best of this and will all along keep making you part of this journey.
May the water that brought her here keep its momentum, and may the flow of feeling never end for her, so she too might bring new life into this world.